Fueling Ambition

Elina WisungBallet, Education, inspiration, preparation, technical development Leave a Comment

By Anagha Madhan for En Avant Jan-Feb 2024

As TLFCB steps into a pivotal examination year after a five-year hiatus, motivation becomes the heartbeat of every plié and tendu. The discourse around motivation is nothing new, especially in the early months of the year. While motivational quotes often adorn our walls, this time, let’s step away from the usual rhetoric. This year calls for a practical approach, one that transcends the clichés and offers a down-to-earth perspective. So, let’s peel back the layers and discover how to fuel the dance flame with a practical, rejuvenating, and, above all, sustainable motivation as we navigate the challenges of the upcoming year.

Motivation is a paradox, at times. It shows us both its challenging and its encouraging sides, and undoubtedly, feeling like you’re playing the lottery with motivation is one of the worst feelings possible. It always manages to show us different faces when we least expect it – a sudden burst of energy at 2 a.m. or having a report due the next day but just not being able to bring yourself to do anything.

The new perspective on motivation that we aim to explore goes beyond the conventional methods of seeking external validation or relying solely on short-term bursts of enthusiasm. Instead, we’re diving into the realm of intrinsic motivation—a driving force that comes from within and is deeply rooted in a genuine love for the art of ballet.

Embarking on the journey to solve a problem often involves breaking it down to its fundamental components and reconstructing it systematically. So, let’s begin with the basics: what exactly is motivation? According to Merriam-Webster, motivation is defined as “something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.” At a superficial level, this definition seems straightforward – if we desire something, we take actions to attain it. However, the reality of motivation is inherently more intricate, considering the complexity of human nature. Questions emerge: What if the desire isn’t compelling enough at the moment? Why am I even investing effort in this pursuit? There are instances when I’ve personally questioned the worth of working towards a goal, contemplating whether it holds any significance when faced with broader concerns like global warming potentially impacting the fate of our world. In delving into the essence of motivation, we uncover a multi-dimensional landscape that extends beyond mere desire.

Extrinsic motivation relies on external factors, like validation and rewards, to keep us moving forward. It’s that push we get from outside sources to achieve a goal or complete a task. Now, on the surface, it might seem like a straightforward way to stay motivated, but here’s the catch – it’s not the most sustainable option. Think of extrinsic motivation like a quick burst of energy. It works, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a pleasant experience. As aspiring ballerinas, we’ve all likely been instructed to make our jumps and leaps appear effortless. Even though we’re aware these moves strain our muscles, we strive to make them look easy. This is a classic example of extrinsic motivation at play – we’re working towards a goal to meet external expectations.

The issue with extrinsic motivation is that it can make the effort feel, well, effortful. It’s like constantly pushing ourselves to meet someone else’s standards, and over time, this can lead to exhaustion and burnout. Picture it as a dancer on stage, trying to keep up with a routine that doesn’t resonate with their inner rhythm. The more they dance to please others, the more it feels like a tiresome chore.

“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” ~ Mikhail Baryshnikov, artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Centre in New York City.

As budding ballerinas, it’s crucial to recognize that while extrinsic motivation might provide a temporary boost, it’s not the key to a sustained and enjoyable dance journey. Sure, it gets the job done, but what if there’s a way to dance through the challenges with a genuine sense of joy and fulfillment? That’s where intrinsic motivation comes into play. 

Simply put, intrinsic motivation is doing something because we genuinely want to do it. Take, for instance, our journey in preparing for graded ballet examinations. Remember those dance variations? Initially, it felt like deciphering a secret code—hard to remember, tricky to master. But as the days unfolded, a fascinating transformation occurred. The dance, once a source of challenge, became a source of joy simply because we knew it.

Think back to those early classes, where the steps seemed like a puzzle waiting to be solved. “What comes next?” was a constant thought, a little cloud hanging over our heads. But with time, as we became familiar with the dance, something remarkable happened. It shifted from the stress of remembering steps to a moment of delight during the leaps, or a chance to channel annoyance into the rebellious ‘I Hate Homework’ variation.

Picture this: you reach a point where anticipation takes over, eagerly waiting for that specific variation. It’s no longer a task; it’s a moment you look forward to. The dance becomes more than just steps; it’s an expression of your enthusiasm, your personal touch infused into each movement.

However, the types of motivation, and motivation itself are tricky little things that are not as straightforward as slapping a “good” or “bad” label on it. It’s more like a dance between two partners, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and they’re surprisingly intertwined! You see, these two aren’t opposites; instead, they often work hand in hand. Picture it as a puppeteer orchestrating a performance, where the strings represent various external factors that propel us into motion. This intricate dance involves four distinct moves: external regulation, introjected regulation, identification, and integrated regulation, each contributing to the rhythm of our motivation.

External Regulation:

Following The Commands – Imagine a puppeteer dictating every move, setting specific rules and rewards. This is external regulation, where motivation arises from external demands or the promise of rewards. It’s like dancing to someone else’s tune, driven by the anticipation of praise, grades, or tangible rewards. The strings are pulled, and we move in alignment with external expectations.

Introjected Regulation:

Knowing The Choreography – Now, picture a subtle shift—the puppeteer moves backstage, but the strings are still attached. In introjected regulation, motivation comes from internal pressures. It’s like adopting the puppeteer’s commands as your own. The dance continues, not for external rewards but to avoid guilt, shame, or a sense of obligation. The strings may be internalized, but the external influence remains, shaping the dance from within.


Dancing to a Resonant Melody – Transition to a scene where the puppeteer hands you the strings. Identification involves choosing to dance to a tune that resonates with your values. It’s like embracing choreography because you find it personally meaningful. The strings are still there, but now you willingly hold them, moving in sync with goals that align with your identity and aspirations.

Integrated Regulation:

The Fusion of Dancer and Dance – Lastly, envision a seamless fusion—the puppeteer exits, and you are left alone on the stage. Integrated regulation marks the point where external motivations become fully integrated into your sense of self. It’s not about external demands or internal pressures anymore; it’s about a harmonious dance where your actions align with your core values. The strings, now an extension of your being, guide your movements naturally.

Many articles talk about why motivation is important, how it works, and what makes it last. But here’s the catch—they often forget to tell you exactly how to get motivated. It makes sense because everyone’s motivation is like their own personal puzzle. However, wouldn’t it be nice to have some clear steps before jumping into the unknown?

According to The Self Determination Theory (SDT), a medically backed theory on how motivation works, there are five mini theories we can use to break down and streamline our extrinsic motivation into an intrinsic one. In the context of being a budding ballerina, here is a step-by-step process to nurture passion and build some intrinsic motivation. 

I. Autonomy: Dance to Your Own Beat

How? Start by picking a dance routine or even a specific move that resonates with you. The key is to make choices that feel uniquely yours. Create a practice schedule that aligns with your preferences, giving you the freedom to explore the magic of ballet on your terms.

II. Competence: Mastering the Moves

How? Break down those tricky dance steps into bite-sized pieces. Set achievable goals for each practice session and celebrate even the tiniest victories. Watching yourself improve boosts your confidence, turning every dance move into a magical feat.

III. Relatedness: Building Dance Friendships

How? Connect with your fellow dancers! Share your challenges, triumphs, and even your favorite ballet moments. Whether it’s in class or online, knowing you’re not alone in your journey creates a sense of camaraderie that lifts everyone’s spirits.

IV. Basic Psychological Needs: Creating Your Dance 

How? Identify what makes ballet special to you. Is it the graceful movements, the storytelling, or the feeling of accomplishment after a performance? By understanding what truly matters to you, you’ll be laying the foundation for a dance journey that’s uniquely fulfilling.

V. Organismic Integration Theory: Making External Motivation Your Ally

How? Take a bow for your achievements, and accept feedback with a smile. Use external factors like performance goals or praise as stepping stones. Let them become part of your dance identity, propelling you forward with each new challenge.

In the intricate dance of motivation, we’ve explored the nuances, demystified the concepts, and laid out some practical stepping stones. Motivation, a journey unique to each individual, is no longer an enigma but a path waiting to be tread. Armed with the knowledge of your personal motivators, the importance of breaking it down into manageable steps, the support of your network, the joy of celebrating every small win, and the flexibility to adapt, you’re equipped for the journey ahead.

Remember, your path may not mirror others’, and that’s perfectly fine. The essence lies in those first steps, the willingness to adapt, and the celebration of every milestone, no matter how small. With this guide in hand, dive into the world of motivation with confidence and turn your aspirations into tangible achievements. Your journey, unique and significant, awaits its next chapter. Happy exploring!

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